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LA BELLE HÉLÈNE Opéra-bouffe in 3 acts. Book by Henri Meilhac & Ludovic Halévy. Music by Jacques Offenbach. Théâtres des Variétés, Paris 17 December, 1864. Adelphi Theatre, London (as Helen or Taken From the Greek 30 June 1866 Opera Society Adaptation by Phil Park and Ronald Hanmer. Professional Versions: 1) book and lyrics by Geoffrey Dunn : 2) book by Edmund Tracey, lyrics by Geoffrey Dunn The second - and equally famous - of Offenbach’s highly diverting satires on a well-known legend. The action takes place (without any regard for credibility) in unspecified ancient times in a unlikely ancient Greece, and concerns the abduction of the fair Helen by the Prince of Troy - aided and abetted by a wily oracle-worker, who outwits Helen’s much deceived husband and an assortment of royal Grecian heroes. The score includes some of Offenbach’s best-loved melodies. SYNOPSIS by Agathe Mélinand ACT I SPARTA. The feast of Adonis is being prepared. The people are laying offerings on the altar, but Calchas, the Grand Augur, is disappointed at this cartload of flowers. He would like oxen and sheep for Jupiter, who is in one of his moods! Meanwhile Venus – well, since that Mount Ida affair!... ‘Venus’s augur will be doing big business’. Enter Helen of Sparta, with women mourning Adonis. On this day, the anniversary of the beautiful young man’s death, they implore Venus: ‘We must have love. Love is dying! Love is dead.’ Alone with Calchas, Helen confides in him: she is obsessed with the Mount Ida story, and the shepherd, Paris. Didn’t Venus promise him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world? And the most beautiful woman in the world... could that be any other than she? Ah, Fate! That Fate which burdens her and prevents her from having a peaceful bourgeois life with Menelaus! Calchas gets rid of Helen just as her ‘darling nephew’ Orestes enters. Accompanied by two girls who are no better than they should be, he tells us of his steamy time yesterday evening. Calchas sends him packing – he has ‘an urgent sacrifice...’ and can’t risk the scandal if the jolly trio should be heard inside the temple. What would people say? Alone at last, Calchas is getting ready for the sacrifice when in comes a shepherd who speaks of Venus, and a letter... and lo! ‘Up there, in the blue sky... that little spot which is getting bigger and bigger’ is a carrier-pigeon laden with a letter. Venus writes to Calchas, commanding that Paris must meet Helen. The amazed augur recognises King Priam’s son, who has seen the goddess. The High Priest cannot resist, he asks for ‘a bit of an idea’. Paris complies: ‘Listen to the story!’ Helen now appears and is obviously smitten at first glance with this handsome shepherd. The meeting is cut short, for the festival is beginning. Enter the Kings of Greece, ‘organisers of, and participants in, a ‘day of intelligence’. In search of a strong intellect among those who are just strong, we meet the two Ajaxes, the ebullient Achilles, Menelaus and the bearded King Agamemnon. A charade and a rhyming game are both won by the shepherd, the outright winner of the contest. He reveals who and what he is: ‘the chap with the apple’, who is crowned by a weak-kneed Helen, whilst Menelaus invites him to dinner. At seven, Helen specifies: ‘We eat at seven...’ Paris wants to get her on her own. Calchas fixes it. A fake thunderclap and an improvised prophecy send King Menelaus off ‘to spend a month in the mountains of Crete’. The entire court joins in the divine decree: ‘Go on, may you arrive, Menelaus, at that distant land where, alas! the voice of destiny leads you!’